What Are the Side Effects of Albuterol?

By Sabina Rebis, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
July 25, 2022

Albuterol is a medication that is frequently prescribed for conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lingering wheezing or coughing after an upper respiratory infection. Albuterol is a type of medication known as a bronchodilator. It works to relax and open airways, making it easier to breathe.

While albuterol has its benefits, it also comes with some common side effects like sore throat or tremors. In this article, we’ll explore common albuterol side effects and how to know what to expect if you take it.

We’ll also discuss how albuterol works, common interactions, and how to know when you should see a medical provider.

Albuterol Side Effects

Albuterol does not cause significant side effects in most cases. Some mild side effects may be surprising for patients.

The following are common side effects that may occur if you take albuterol from a nebulizer or as a metered-dose inhaler (MDI).

Nervousness

Feelings of nervousness, agitation, anxiety, hyperactivity, or increased excitability are possible side effects of albuterol. These are more common in children but tend to become less common after a few days or weeks of starting the medication.

Headache

Headache is the most commonly experienced whole-body symptom of albuterol, although it affects less than 10% of patients.

Tremors

Tremors and shakiness, particularly in the hands, are common side effects of albuterol. These affect about 20% of people who take it, typically younger patients – although people of any age may be affected.

While the medication works to relax muscles in the airways, it may lead to tremors, shaking, or even dizziness.

These tremors are triggered by activation of a specific type of receptor, known as the beta-2 receptor, that increases cellular signals in nerves that affect body movements.

Sore throat

Inflammation of the throat, known as pharyngitis, can happen as the albuterol drug passes down the throat and into the lungs. It may feel like a common sore throat, including feelings of irritation or discomfort while swallowing.

Clinical trials found that 14% of people using albuterol inhalers could experience this side effect. To decrease the effect, a spacer can be used to help move albuterol into the lungs faster, reducing its irritating effects on the throat.

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Runny nose

For some patients, albuterol may trigger a runny nose, known as rhinitis.

It happens when the lining of the nasal cavity gets inflamed or irritated, causing sneezing, runny nose, or congestion. Between 5% and 16% of patients may experience this side effect, depending on which type of albuterol they take.

Rapid heartbeat

Using albuterol frequently may lead to side effects like a rapid heartbeat or palpitations.

This side effect happened less commonly than other ones, between 3% and 7%. If you experience this symptom, you should tell your healthcare provider. They may prescribe a different medication that has less of an impact on heart rate.

Worsening asthma symptoms

 In rare cases, asthma symptoms can worsen.

If you notice more tightness in your chest, breathing problems, or worsening asthma symptoms when you take albuterol, let your healthcare provider know immediately. Do not keep taking albuterol if it worsens your asthma.

How Albuterol Works

Albuterol is a prescription medication used to treat asthma, COPD, and other breathing-related conditions.

It works by reducing bronchospasms, which are the tightening and swelling of the airways that can make it harder to breathe.

The drug can help to improve breathing for up to 6-12 hours.

Albuterol may be prescribed along with other medications such as corticosteroids or long-acting beta-agonists.

Albuterol is available in both generic and brand names (Ventolin, Proventil, ProAir).

It can be prescribed as an inhalation suspension or powder, as well as a nebulizer solution, oral syrup, immediate-release tablet, or extended-release tablet.

Interactions and Warnings

While albuterol is safe for many patients, there are potential interactions and warnings to consider.

If you experience worsening asthma or other serious side effects, call 911 or seek emergency medical care.

Signs of serious reactions can include:

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Hives or skin rashes
  • Swelling of the face, eyelids, lips, tongue, or throat (anaphylaxis)
  • Inability to swallow
  • Fainting
  • Low blood pressure

Albuterol may interact with other medications, supplements, over-the-counter drugs, herbs, and vitamins, such as:

  • Blood pressure medication: People who are being treated for asthma should typically avoid beta-blockers, a type of drug for treating high blood pressure. Beta-blockers can prevent albuterol from working. Types of beta-blockers for hypertension include propranolol and atenolol. Beta-blockers are sometimes prescribed for other reasons.
  • Antidepressants: Certain types of medications used to treat depression may interact with albuterol, causing the asthma medication to have a stronger effect on the body. Types of antidepressants that should not be taken with albuterol include monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) like phenelzine, selegiline, and tranylcypromine, as well as tricyclic antidepressants like nortriptyline, imipramine, and amitriptyline.
  • Diuretics: Also known as water pills, diuretics are used to treat blood pressure problems and other conditions. People who take albuterol and diuretics can experience a serious drop in potassium levels or changes to heart rhythms. Diuretics include bumetanide, hydrochlorothiazide, furosemide, and chlorthalidone.

To prevent interactions, always tell your doctor and pharmacist everything you take, whether it was prescribed or is an OTC medicine.

Albuterol has important warnings for certain medical conditions and other situations:

  • May cause severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis which require emergency medical care
  • May affect blood pressure, heart rate, or pulse in people who have heart conditions
  • May make it harder to control blood sugar levels in patients who have diabetes
  • May worsen overactive thyroid in people who have hyperthyroidism
  • May cause or worsen seizures for people who have epilepsy
  • May lead to serious potassium deficiency for people who already have low levels
  • May not be safe for pregnancy and is listed as FDA category C
  • May not be safe for people who are breastfeeding, since albuterol has the potential to pass into breast milk
  • May be cleared from the body more slowly in older adults
  • May not be safe for young children under 4 years of age

Other Considerations

If you are prescribed albuterol, keep the following in mind:

  • You can take it with or without food.
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions about when and how often to take it.
  • Store your albuterol medication at room temperature, and do not allow it to be exposed to extreme heat or cold.
  • Do not keep albuterol in moist or damp areas, like bathrooms.
  • Do not keep albuterol anywhere near open flames or heat sources.
  • Do not puncture the container.
  • Do not allow the medication to get in or around the eyes.

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When to See a Medical Professional

If you experience symptoms of asthma or breathing problems, or you have COPD, your doctor may prescribe albuterol. If you have symptoms and need inhaler medication, a healthcare provider can prescribe albuterol or similar medications.

If you take albuterol and experience side effects, speak to a medical provider. They will help you understand what is normal or may prescribe an alternative treatment.

If you need treatment for asthma or breathing problems, you can talk to a K Health provider from the comfort of your home using our HIPAA-compliant app.

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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Sabina Rebis, MD

Dr. Sabina Rebis is a board certified family medicine physician with over 5 years of primary care and urgent care experience.